Written by Tina L. Jens
Published by The Design Image Group, 2002
“This Club is Haunted. If You’re Afraid of Ghosts, Go Away!” So reads the sign that hangs on the door of the Lonesome Blues Pub, the setting for the stories in Tina L. Jens’ collection of stories. But for readers, the sign on the door should read more of a warm invitation than a warning, as the stories inside, though chock full of ghostly activity, are not scary.
The stories center around the owners of the Lonesome Blues Pub, Miss Sarah and her daughter, “Little Mustang” Sally. Also included are a few of the bar regulars, Old George and Ratman, and a others of the otherworldly nature, including the bar’s resident spirit “Jayhawk.” Separated into five short stories, the tales cover a time span of nineteen years, during which time a ten-year-old “Little Mustang” engages in a blues-style duel with a demonic preacher, Miss Sarah departs the club after being attacked by ghosts and finding a man (in that order), and “Little Mustang” takes over the club operations on her own.
While there are ghostly antics throughout the book, they take a back seat to the lore surrounding their real-life counterparts. For example, when Robert Johnson’s spirit shows up at the bar, complete with a hellhound on his heels, the famed blues man seems, for the most part, content to sit at the bar drinking while the hound bays at the door. Other scenes, which could have been played for chilling effect, were underplayed in favor of examining the relationship between mother and daughter, and how a man came between them. While the author’s knowledge of the lore or Blues, and of relationships, come across well, such scenes may leave horror fans looking for more.
However, what Jens does in this collection, she does very well. Her descriptions of the Lonesome Blues Pub leaves the reader smelling the smoke-filled air and feeling the rough, fire-kissed walls. Her characters, which may, at first, come off as stereotypes, prove themselves to have depth, and to be likeable to boot. And, while the horror fans may be looking for the scare or the blood-soaked floorboards, it is refreshing and nice to see how Jens treats the ghosts in her club, as though they were any other character who just happened to be dead.
As a nice touch, the last two sections of the book include a bibliography and a recommended listing list. Just in case anyone thought the crazy names of the bluesmen and women who appeared as spectral visitors in the bar were purely made up, Jens provides proof and tribute to the old masters. Well known names such as Willie Dixon and Jimi Hendrix are accompanied by some names that might be lesser known in the modern world, such as Lefty Dizz and Blind Lemon Jefferson. Anyone who is interested in the blues would do well to check the list out.
But the question remains, is it horror? Despite the presence of other-worldly influence, it is difficult to say if The Blues Ain’t Nothin’ fits in any one genre. However, a better description might be that it is a love-letter to the masters of a great musical style and era gone by. With loving attention, Jens pays homage to the legends of the Chicago blues sound, introduces them to a generation which may not have heard of them before. This collection has a smoky, aged feel, like a bottle of whiskey, biting at first, but leaving the reader feeling warm inside.
3 out of 5